3 Time-Saving Tips for Teens – How To Be More Productive & Accomplish Your Goals

  1. Make Use of “Sponge Time

I’m not talking about Sponge Bob, but about time you already have but maybe don’t know you have. Just like a sponge easily absorbs extra water, if you really look, you will see “extra time” all around you. We all get the same 24 hours in a day. Many teens waste a lot of that time. Soak up the extra time around you.  When I was a senior in high school, I almost never took work home! I used some of these tips for teens to get ALL MY HOMEWORK done at school.

  • Use time riding in a car to study, write, text, email, or even practice an instrument like guitar (I wouldn’t try practicing a wind instrument in a vehicle).
  • When you arrive early to school, use that time to study rather than just “hanging out.” It’s ok to hang out, just be more deliberate with doing that.
  • If you get 40 minutes for lunch, you can eat lunch and socialize for 20 minutes and spend 20 minutes studying or practicing.
  • In most classes, you have a few minutes at the start and end of class. Use that time to get some homework done, make an outline or something.

2. Be more aware of time spent watching Television & Movies

TV is a big time waster.  Am I saying TV is completely bad? No, I watch some TV. It is just easy for TV to distract you from your goals. Record (or stream) and watch a few shows or movies, but beware of filling your days with mindless media consumption. Some stats say the average young person today spends 30 or more hours a week consuming media. That’s too much! How about ten hours or less? That would be better.

3. Don’t give in to the myth of multi-tasking

Studies have shown that when you switch from one task to another, it takes you 20 minutes or more to get back on task. Multi-tasking is a myth. Set aside time – maybe 45-60 minutes – to get work done. Turn off the TV, the phone, log out of Facebook/Tic Toc and spend that time wisely. Then, take a break and text, Facebook, etc. After your break, turn those apps off again.  Not only will you get more done, but when you are texting or talking, you will be more focused on the person you’re talking to, which will improve your relationships.

James Divine is a music teacher who has been a student of leadership, productivity and timesaving strategies since he was a teenager. With God’s help, he teaches full time, makes his family a priority, exercises, reads a book a week, performs, records and writes.  It’s not about how much time you have, but about how you use the time God has given you. Find out more about James at  www.jamesdivine.net. Also check out his course “Why Don’t They Teach That in School.”

What Would You Do If You Saw This Guy in Walgreens

It is SO easy to pre-judge people and make assumptions about them. I have had that happen to me dozens of times, and I know others have as well.

Once I was in Walgreens – the only one there – dressed like this – which is how I dress when I go out for a run on a winter morning. I heard a manager speak over the intercom and I immediately knew she was talking about me!

View more motivational videos at my Youtube Channel. I’d love to come and share stories with your group live and in person. Contact me HERE.

You Will Be Found Saxophone Cover

I absolutely love this song from the musical Dear Evan Hansen! It makes me cry when I hear it and when I play it. I hope you like this rendition of it.

Many of us go through life lost, lonely, confused, wondering what our purpose is. You DO have a purpose. You DO have meaning. There is Someone looking for you, and if you look for Him, You Will Be Found!

Listen to more of my music HERE. Find out more about me at www.jamesdivine.net.

How To Make An Easy – And Cheap – Cup of Coffee

Do you just absolutely have to have that delicious cup of Joe from one of your local chains? I need coffee to jump start my morning, but I don’t pay my local chain $5 for a cup when I can make my own for less than 25 cents. What could you do with that extra money? In just a year, you could save enough to go on a cruise. Yes, a cruise! Save $5/day x 365, that’s over $1500 in a year – more than enough for a Caribbean cruise. Speaking of cruises, once you save enough, head over to www.shiptrip.com and check out the offers my good friends there have available.

This is just one lesson from my Adulting 101 course. Get more below… Have you ever thought “Why don’t they teach THAT in school?” As a teacher of 23 years myself, I noticed that students had less and less of some of the basic skills they need for every day life. Thus Adulting 101 was born. Get the entire course at Udemy. It comes with a 30 day money back guarantee: https://www.udemy.com/course/adulting… Other mini-lessons include…

How To Write a Thank You Note (and how often) How To Make a Phone Call How to Apologize How to Accept an Apology How To Take a Phone Message How To Write a Check and Balance Your Account How to Decide Between Two Options How To Sew on a Button How to Iron How to Clean the Bathroom How to Vacuum How To Do Laundry How to Operate a Fire Extinguisher How To Boil Water How To Make Easy Peanut Butter Cookies How to Cook Bacon AND MORE! Get the full course at Udemy. There’s a 30 day money back guarantee. https://www.udemy.com/course/adulting101/

I Must Not Be Cut Out To Be A Farmer

Could you imagine someone tilling the soil, planting a seed, watering it carefully, going to bed, then coming out the next morning to see the results. When finding nothing, he declares “I must not be cut out to be a farmer.” Silly, right? Yet this is what many of us do in endeavors in our lives. Anything worth doing requires persistence and endurance. Just like a farmer plants a seed and then often has to keep working for 3, 4, 6 months to see the fruit, we have to do the same in our lives. www.jamesdivine.net ; Why Don’t They Teach That In School Course

Prayer Has Never Been Removed from Schools

I hear Christians lamenting all the time about two Supreme Court decisions in the 1960s that “removed prayer from schools”. This is a distortion of the facts. I decided it was time to set the record straight.

Those decisions did not remove prayer from schools, but removed state-sponsored prayer from public schools, and frankly I’m glad they did!

Christians have always been for the underdog, for the downtrodden, for those whose rights have been taken away, for those who are being abused. After all, it’s what Christ commanded us to do. And with our constitutional right to freedom of religion, this also includes the freedom to reject any religion. God has never forced anyone to follow Him. 

So why would we want to force people to pray? And what would happen if the majority of people were not Christian? Would they then have the right to force us to pray to their god? We should NOT have state-sponsored prayer in our schools, but neither should prayer be prohibited, and according to our constitution it’s not.

The dictionary defines prayer as a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship. Prayers can be out loud, or silent and in our minds. They can be made with eyes open or closed. While standing, sitting, or kneeling. The Supreme court decision in the 1960s did not ban prayer in schools. The constitution demands freedom of religion, which means you can pray whenever you want. 

Here’s why I think Christians have become dismayed over this subject…

Someone “in charge” at a school – a principal, board member, or teacher – has made a decision to “ban prayer.” Maybe the decision is made out of fear (many parents are ready to take every decision they disagree with immediately to the superintendent these days). Maybe the decision is due to lack of knowledge (many people misunderstand our freedoms – read the constitution please). Sometimes Christians have allowed themselves to be bullied in these situations. To be fair, the bully doesn’t always know he’s being one.

I pray daily at school – at my desk before I eat – in the hallway before students file in – while proctoring state testing – every Friday when I walk through the campus specifically praying for the school – and every week I pray for the leaders in my school district. 

Nobody stops me.

If a group of football players wants to get together before the game to pray – THEY ARE ALLOWED TO – and if some players don’t want to join in – they are allowed to refrain. If a group of students wants to meet early or stay late to study the bible – THEY ARE ALLOWED TO, unless the school prohibits all groups from meeting.

There are some things I’m not allowed to do…

  • I’m not allowed to use my music class time to proclaim the gospel
  • I’m not allowed to be disrespectful of other people’s beliefs that differ from mine

But what I’m allowed to do far exceeds that…

  • I’m allowed to pray whenever I want, silently during class or out loud when I’m alone
  • I’m allowed to talk to students about my faith when they ask me about it
  • I’m allowed to say Merry Christmas to students and staff 

You CAN pray in schools, for schools, for teachers, for administrators, and for parents and students. You CAN run for your local school board. When was the last time you prayed for our schools? Will you take a moment to do so now?

*** James Divine is in his 24th year of teaching, which he believes is his calling. Today’s Christian teachers are on a difficult mission field, but they have the potential for tons of impact. Find out more about James at www.jamesdivine.net.  Find out more about Prayer.

How To Pay For College Without Debt and Without Worry

College is affordable

We are constantly hearing all the “woe is me” about our colleges and the cost to attend! Some of those problems are our own doing, but college is still affordable!

My Story

I wanted to go to college for as far back as I can remember. My mom didn’t have any money saved up for me for college, but she did tell me I could live at home for free as long as I wanted while going to college.

I made the same mistakes many young people make…

  • I bought a NEW car (it was a Ford Escort, mind you, but it was still more than I needed)
  • Insurance was expensive on my NEW car
  • I felt like I was working just to pay for things needed for my NEW car (do you see a theme here)

I was taking one or two college classes and working full time at a construction job. It was ok, but I hated the work. Each night I arrived home tired and worn out, ready to eat dinner, watch tv, go to bed and do it again the next day. It looked to me like it would take forever to finish school at that rate, so I talked to a recruiter and joined the Army.

You can join the military and in exchange for three years of your life, you’ll receive about 72k in education benefits, plus you should be able to complete 2 years of college in a 4 year enlistment.

I started attending college while on active duty. I had to pay about 10% of the cost, the rest was covered by the military. There were only a few choices of colleges, it took me ten years, but I completed my Bachelor of Science in Business Administration!

You might be surprised at how many different types of jobs there are in the military. It’s not all about shooting weapons and war. I was in the band. You can be a cook, an admin assistant, work with finance, work in the chapel, shoot people, + a myriad of other options.

The Reality

I’m going to break down some real costs for my area (Colorado Springs)

Example #1: 18 year old student living at home with parents

Tuition at Pikes Peak Community College 3736

Books and Other Fees (you can probably bring this down buying used) 1800

TOTAL 5536

If this student works 40 hours a week at a minimum wage of $7.25/hour, he will earn approximately $15,000, more than enough to pay for college and have plenty to get around, plus some extra for fun.

Example #2: 18 year old student living on his own 

Tuition at Pikes Peak Community College 3736

Books and Other Fees (you can probably bring this down by going used) 1800

Renting a room in someone’s basement 6000

Food (does not include Starbucks or going out to eat; lots of ramen and mac and cheese)


TOTAL 15136

If this student works 40 hours a week at a minimum wage of $7.25/hour, he will earn approximately $15,000. He will need to live somewhere close to the college and won’t have any extra money. However, if he took another part time job the weeks he didn’t have school – working just ten more hours per week – he could make 7.25/hour x 10 hours per week x 16 weeks = $1160. This could help pay for a couple of extra items.


  • This doesn’t sound like fun.
    • It’s not, it’s work, but it’s a sacrifice you make over a short period of time.
  • How can he work 40 hours AND do all his assignments.
    • The average college student spends upwards of 30 hours per week on media, social and otherwise.
    • Most wage earners actually stay at minimum wage only a short time. I earned minimum wage from the age of 14-17 – since then not. Once you prove to your employer that you are worth what she is paying you, you will earn substantially more than minimum wage.

Let’s take a look at a state college

In the state of Colorado, state colleges are required to take your transfer credits from community colleges when you transfer into their school.

Tuition at UNC Greeley 10,000

Room and Board 10,000

TOTAL 20,000

Now you have several options regarding work…

  • Continue working 40 hours/week and earning 15k/year; you accrue about 5k a year in debt, times two years. Not much debt at all. Work 60 hours a week during the summer to reduce that amount even more.
  • Don’t work at all during school, but work 60 hours per week during school breaks. Let’s also assume that since you now have your associate’s degree, you can now earn $10/hour. Your earnings would be $9,600/year. Let’s round that to $10k, so over two years you would need to borrow just 20K for your education. Once again very affordable.

The problem I see is that many students do not want to make the sacrifice needed to go to college. Because the loans are so easy to get and insured by the government, many students don’t work, yet continue to finance their lattes and vacations with borrowed money. Some choose to go to more expensive colleges. Some choose to major in Polka Music History and then wonder why they can’t get a job.

I wanted to get a master’s degree for a long time. I researched and looked into many possibilities. The 50k cost of most of many of them simply was not worth it to me. However, I finally found a small college in southwestern Oklahoma that gave me in-state tuition if I played in the summer band. I attended in the summers of 2010, 2011 and 2012. My total cost for a master’s degree was $9,000, which included room and board for the half of each week I stayed in Oklahoma. That’s $9k total, not per year!

Was it a sacrifice to have to drive each week? Yes. I could have stayed but I wanted to be home with my family. If you add the cost of driving, it would add about $3k to the total price. $12k – not bad for a master’s degree, and it immediately boosted my income about 5k per year as a teacher. There were options available in which I could have finished a master’s degree in 1-1 ½ years. Some cost 80-90k. If I had borrowed money to go to one of those schools, I would still owe the debt.

College is affordable. Don’t let the lies sink in.
*** James is a middle school teacher at a Title 1 school in Colorado Springs. He grew up in Title 1 schools before they were called that. Part of his growing up years was spent homeless – at least by today’s definition (we bumped around from family to family sleeping where we could; when mom was able to get her own apartment, we did not have electricity) – and on welfare. He is a strong believer in life-long learning. Sometimes that learning comes from a formal education, but mostly it comes from reading. Find out more at www.jamesdivine.net. Also check out more resources HERE.

I Wasn’t Always This Way

I wasn’t always this way!

People look at me – 55, getting better looking each year, married to my high school sweetheart, parent of four, grandparent of 8, successful band teacher, author, speaker, musician – and they think “Wow, James is so confident and sure of himself. Life has been good to him. I wish my life was like that.”

I wasn’t always this way!

I struggled, really struggled with self-esteem for many years. I know it was related to having an abusive father, being molested and all the damage that did to my psyche. I ALWAYS felt like I had to be dating someone, and my self-esteem plummeted when a girl would break up with me. I would beg her to come back, to give me another chance, to tell me where I failed. By the way, this is the worst thing to do. I should have said, “OK…I was thinking the same thing.”

My friend Amy – after hearing about the umpteenth time of a girl breaking up with me and how sad and lonely I was – she was one of those people who got to the point quickly – confronted me about why I felt like I needed to be dating someone all the time. I don’t think she even realized the impact of her words. It caused me to think. It caused me to change my behavior. I decided to stop being worried about finding the right person. Maybe I needed to focus on me, on becoming a better person! Becoming more Christ-like.

The interesting thing is that when I did that, that’s when I found my soul-mate, my life-long lover, my best friend. I started dating Susan soon after that talk with Amy. I knew in about a week that Susan was probably the one. (By the way guys, after a week is not the time to mention this, even if you know deep in your soul).

Even after I started my adult life, got married, joined the Army band and was a successful husband, dad and musician, my self-esteem was still rock bottom.

I wasn’t always this way!

You see, I am a recovering people pleaser. At first glance, a people pleaser seems to be a really nice person. Everyone can count on them. Need cookies baked, call a people pleaser. Need someone on a committee, call a people pleaser. People pleasers can’t say no. Ultimately for me, this desire to please grew out of a fear of rejection, which had its roots in not being close to my father due to his abuse of my mom. I felt that those close to me might reject me if I didn’t do everything they wanted.

Although I started killing off the roots of what caused me to be a people pleaser, I didn’t totally sever the roots until I went to Next Level Life in 2015. What is it? Two intense days of physical, emotional and spiritual counseling. In the course of the two days, you uncover your roots – patterns and behaviors that have contributed to how you act or react to things – and sever a lot of those roots (the bad roots). I learned to leave those people pleasing tendencies behind.

I wasn’t always this way!

So when you see me – successful, self-assured, confident, willing to disagree, making sure I have my priorities straight – I want you to realize it wasn’t always like this. It is a journey, a process, sometimes hard work that takes you from one point to another. I had the same doubts you have. I had the same struggles you have. I had the same lack of self-esteem as you have.

I overcame and

Now I am this way (but I wasn’t always this way)

And I like that I’m this way…the only one I truly have to please is God

And He’s pleased with me because He is making me into His image

By taking care of me first, it has given me more time

By focusing on my mission and calling, it has made me a better person

And believe it or not, I love others more than I ever have

So don’t look at me and say, “I wish”

But look at me and say, “If he could do it, with God’s help I can too.”

I love you.

I’m proud of you.

You make my life rich.

* James is first and foremost a son of the King. He is also a teacher, musician, speaker and author of Forgive: One man’s story of being molested. Find out more at www.jamesdivine.net.  Find out more about Next Level Life at www.chrislocurto.com

Advice: Choosing Quality Band Literature at the Appropriate Level

Choosing Quality Band Literature

Here are a few things I have learned about selecting music for wind band…

Ability Level of the Ensemble You Direct: 

A piece of music may be the greatest creation ever made, but if it is too difficult for the students to play, they will become discouraged. I often made the mistake of selecting literature that was too difficult in the early years of my career. Does this mean that there should never be a piece in the folder that is beyond students’ reach? No, there should always be something that we are looking at that would be a stretch for our group. Musicians have never “arrived.” We are always working and striving for better things.

My students still say things like “This is too easy.” I have learned to explain to them that – yes, their individual part is easy, and each person may feel that way about their part, but when we put it all together it isn’t musical yet. It’s hard to make music when one is struggling with the technique. There is good quality music available at all levels. At some levels it will take more digging to find the quality stuff, but it’s there. You might use a resource like the Teaching Music Through Performance series.


This is a difficult one. If you don’t have an oboe/English horn player, it will be difficult to do a piece like Russian Christmas Music. It can be done – and as a professional sax player I have played the oboe and English horn cues in that song – but it just isn’t the same. Likewise if you have no trumpet players or few low brass players, there are simply some things you cannot perform.

I want to thank one of my mentors, Joe Brice, for helping me in my teaching in this area. He came to clinic my band and said “You need another tuba.” Of course I agreed but stated that I couldn’t do anything. Joe answered with a detailed, thoughtful answer that represented his 50+ years of experience. He said, “Did you ask anybody?” At that point I wanted to slap my head in a big “Duh; why didn’t I think of that” moment. I asked and convinced three students to switch over.

My point is that – although instrumentation (or lack of it) can be difficult, we really need to take a long term approach to it. Ask your students if anyone wants to switch, especially if – like me – you have a ton of flute players and less of others. Some of those who switch will become awesome; some of them will go back to their original instrument. That’s ok! Explain to the students why it is important that some of them switch for the good of the band.

Rehearsal Time: 

We are involved in the field of music education. Sometimes I think we forget that…I know I have…especially as we rush to prepare for a concert, festival or competition. A director of a professional symphony may be able to prepare difficult pieces with just 2-3 rehearsals. However, our job is not only directing, but educating. As I have gained more experience, I have realized that the educating part of the job is much more important and has more lasting effects.

I think it is better to do one or two high quality pieces and play them extremely well than to perform 4-5 pieces and not have really learned anything in the process. It is important to dig deep into the music, the history and even some analysis of the songs being performed. So often we are so busy with the need to get through the music that we forget to instruct students about the music.

Select Quality Literature: 

Now we arrive at probably the greatest challenge in selecting music. How do we define quality? For me, the definition has changed a lot over the course of my teaching. There are many pieces I regret having wasted money on in my early years of teaching. I know quality when I hear it, but I don’t always recognize lack of quality (if that even makes sense). There is quality literature at every level. There is junk at every level.

Here is my definition of quality music…

Quality music moves me emotionally. Sometimes it makes me uncomfortable, not a cover your ears and run out of the room uncomfortable, but uncomfortable in the sense that my thinking is challenged. It is expressive. It is melodic. Although it may contain repeating motifs, it is not the same two measure repeating motif for 120 measures.

Now do you feel qualified to determine whether music is of quality or not? Me neither. We need something more. Frank Battisti in his book The Winds of Change says that many directors have stopped attending concerts and listening and studying great music. We must expose ourselves to great music so we can know when we hear it. Battisti likens it to a wine connoisseur whose tastes improve as he becomes exposed to more wine. I liken it to a little kid who thinks a fast food burger is the greatest thing on earth, until she matures and realizes that there are burgers ten times better than the fast food variety.

I encourage you to listen to great music, attend your state conference and listen to the groups selected to perform, and when you go to contest, schedule some time to listen and observe other groups. As Battisti states, your taste level will be elevated. You will become better equipped to know when you hear poor quality music.

I will end with a quote from Battisti, “We are what we consume! If one wants to become an artist conductor/teacher – one must consume great Art.”

***James has been a performer and educator for over 30 years, teaching band and orchestra at every level from 4th-12th grade. He also hosts the music ed podcast, delivers keynote speeches using music, and has written several books on music and life in general. Find out more at www.jamesdivine.net. 

Are you burned out? Take this test to find out.

Burned Out

In 1998, I started my first teaching job with passion, dedication, love and joy. I gave my all to my students, but I neglected myself and – I’m ashamed to say – at times my family. I became extremely burned out. When I left that school for another in 2005, I promised myself I would never let that happen again! I set boundaries, I took better care of my health, I left for home at the end of the school day.

As my own kids grew, I found myself starting a marching band and devoting more and more time to my work. I didn’t mind. My responsibilities at home had changed, I had more time, and I saw what a difference marching band was making in my students’ lives. I had overcome the possibility of burnout!


I succumbed again. It wasn’t quite as bad as the first time, but this time I didn’t recognize the signs until I heard a presentation by Dr. Frank Tracz of Kansas State. He shared the burnout link with us that you will find below.

I left my position for a new one teaching middle school with no marching band. Sometimes – not always – one must leave a position to regain balance. That’s a whole blog post of it’s own.

Are you burned out? Take this Burnout Self Test from the good people at Mind Tools to find out. If the results come out positive, make the changes necessary to prevent burnout. You’ll be glad you did.

I just took the test again recently. Even though I am not burned out, I am in the danger zone – probably because of Covid. I address those thoughts in a recent podcast HERE.

11 Ways to Lose (and Keep) a Band Student

11 Ways To Lose (and Keep) A Band Student

Nobody wants to lose a band student. Sometimes it’s inevitable – you get a student who doesn’t want to work at all for example. Other times it may be our own fault.

Here are 11 ways to lose a band student for sure (and 11 ways to keep them).

1. Have Roving Eyes

Instead of focusing on the here and now and what students you do have, always look for the next Miles Davis. Never be content with who you have.

Make the best of who and what you have. Develop them to their fullest ability. Miles Davis could be weird at times anyway.

2. Don’t Answer Calls and Emails

Answering these takes time, time away from preparing the music. Just delete/erase these before they clutter up your inbox.

If a student takes the time to call or email you, it is generally because he wants to do well and improve. If you don’t respond in a timely manner, you are showing lack of concern for them. Many times students have told me I’m the only teacher who responds to their emails.

3. Don’t listen to feedback

Some of my directors growing up were “My way or the highway” types who really were not interested in becoming better people. Ignoring the feedback from your students means you won’t have as great of an opportunity to improve.

Listen to student feedback, even if you disagree. Maybe there is a compromise in there somewhere. Listen carefully if it’s coming from your leaders.

4. Don’t Get To Know Your Students

After all, music is the most important thing, so why would we ever ask them about their families, future plans or other activities. (Caveat…I DO make sure my students understand that our short rehearsal together is going to be focused on music).

Before, after and during breaks in rehearsal, get to know about your students’ families, jobs, dreams, interests and hobbies.

5. Focus only on your wants and needs

Who cares what songs the students want to play. It’s all about winning the competition and making me look good.

Isn’t it ok to play a Disney song once in awhile? Let the students pick some of the repertoire. I usually ask them to send me a www.jwpepper.com link so I can review it. If it’s not suited to our group, I tell them why.

6. Argue over little things

After all, what type of tread is on the bottom of the marching shoe has won and lost championships, right?

After 23 years of teaching, I quit being so strict about footwear at concerts. Do I want the kids to look nice? You bet. Does a percussionist wearing black sneakers instead of black dress shoes affect anyone’s enjoyment of the music? Not really.

7. Ignore The Little Things

I know Sally doesn’t have music yet, but there’s just no time for such trivial things. I’ll update the grades at the end of the semester. I know Brian took a retest weeks ago, but I don’t think he will mind having a D as long as I change it before the end of the semester.

The little things add up to big things. I am not perfect in this, so I write EVERYTHING down. I don’t want to forget the small details.

8. Don’t show appreciation

The students have the privilege of being in my class.

The students have the option not to be in your class. It’s your privilege to get to teach the best and brightest in the school.

9. Don’t Apologize

Rule #1: The director is always right.

Rule #2: When the director is wrong, refer to rule #1.

Saying “sorry” when called for is one of the best things you can do. I’ve lost my temper at a kid. I’ve said something that humiliated them or done something I shouldn’t have. I ALWAYS apologize. It makes an impact on the students.

10. Poor care of facilities

Hey, the music is the most important thing, so why do the room and instruments need to be taken care of.

Put away piles of stuff. Organize. Throw away. Make the facility look the best you can with what you have.

11. Don’t care

Look at the players as people who fill a need for an instrument rather than as people.

Show concern. Call when a student is away for extended illness. When they return, tell them how much you missed them.

A student doesn’t care how much you KNOW until they know how much you CARE.

James Divine – Youth Success Speaker

Abusive Father
Sexual Abuse

I’ve lived through all of these. I had to overcome them as I realized that I could have a better future than what my life had dictated. I love sharing my story of experiencing all these things, but more importantly, sharing the steps I took to overcome and leave these events in the past where they belong.

In the past 20+ years, I’ve shared this message with tens of thousands of people to help them change their mindset, overcome their past, and move to their best future. You can count on me to be humorous, interactive, and an engaging speaker, full of insights and stories, and music, and humor, and different characters even.

I have been teaching middle and high school students for more than 20 years. I know their struggles. Their pains. Their insecurities. I was exactly like them. I suffered from “I Can’t” syndrome, but finally found the process to break free. I wish it was just a little magic pill, but it’s not. It’s a process. I’ve helped hundreds on their own journey.

Now I’m a veteran, husband, dad, teacher, musician, author, and grandad! Contact me today and let’s discuss your needs.

A Glimpse of my (Italian Widowed) Mom in Heaven

Dealing with a family member who has had a stroke is very difficult. There are so many things to attend to, not to mention wondering if your family member will even survive! My mom had a stroke in May of 2016. At first we thought she was going to die.

When she made it through the first few days and was in recovery, we got to see a glimpse of what she will be like in heaven. It was a wonderful gift…one that I especially treasure now.

Looking back on my life and seeing how my mom acts now, she is sometimes a real PITA (rhymes with her name). No, not an eastern style flat bread. This is a very different definition of PITA.

A lady I know used to occasionally call her grandkids PITA when they were acting up. She said it so sweetly that I thought it was a pet name for them. I asked her what it meant. She said it meant Pain In The ***. My mom can be a real PITA at times.

My sister and I have always lauded her as the master of the guilt trip. We were used to it growing up. We often had interactions like this…

Me: Mom, I’m sorry I talked back to you. Will you forgive me?
Mom: You’re not sorry.
Me: Mom, please forgive me. I’ll never talk back to you again.
Mom: You don’t appreciate anything I do for you.
Me: Mom, I DO appreciate you. I love you.
Mom: You don’t love me. People who love other people don’t talk back to them.

Let’s just say there were times when there was not a lot of grace. If anything, mom has gotten worse about this with age. She is 76 but constantly talks about how when she was 5, one of her sisters stole an orange from her. When you try to reason with her, it backfires and comes back to “Since you are arguing with me, you don’t really love me.”

It has become somewhat of a family joke that all these bad things happen to her because people are prejudiced against Italian widows.

“Jimmy, they got my order wrong at McDonalds on purpose.”
“No, mom, they’re just incompetent. They get everyone’s order wrong.”
“You don’t understand what I’ve been through. They are doing this because I’m an Italian widow.”

Sheesh. They must get my order wrong because I’m the son of an Italian widow!

We all do things wrong in life, including mom, and we all need God’s forgiveness and grace. Mom has somehow lost that grace for others in her own life. However, for three wonderful weeks in June of 2016, we got to see what she will be like in heaven.

A stroke normally does change a person’s behavior, but it is often for the bad. In Mom’s case it was for the good. She became very gentle, charming even with the hospital staff (she normally berates hospital staff. When I apologize for her, they tell me they only have to live with it temporarily while they acknowledge I have had to live with it for life). She ate food prepared by others. As usual, she insisted it wasn’t as good as her own, but she was cute and charming about it (normally she won’t even eat ANY food prepared by others). She was very grateful for life, for the hospital staff, for everyone who came to see her, for the hospital food, for all the well-wishers who came by to visit, for my wife (who was there EVERY day…our Friday night date nights became dinner at the hospital cafeteria for awhile…I am so grateful to have a beautiful woman like that as my soul-mate).

Alas, as her brain healed, she went back to being normal, which for her is depressed, condemning, judgmental and unforgiving. I truly believe the untreated depression contributes to this, as well as undiagnosed mental illness. I have asked my wife to watch me for any mental illness as I know it can be hereditary, but so far nothing has shown up (shhh, the government is looking over my shoulder as I write this).

I hope that reading this article doesn’t give you the impression that I’m ungrateful. My mom was a single mom. She gave up a lot in life so she could purchase a saxophone and music lessons for me, and I’m extremely grateful. We never went hungry. Despite the guilt trips and being chased by a wooden spoon often, we knew we were loved. She taught me about God, probably the best gift she could ever have given me. Mom is racked by a lot of guilt and regret. I wish she would accept the lessons she taught me. God forgives her. He has wiped her past away. He still has plans for her, despite her poor health.

I write this to give you encouragement. Maybe you were raised by someone who was the master of the guilt trip. Maybe you are dealing with mental illness, or stroke, or cancer or a multitude of other things. These issues have to be faced with grace, forgiveness, humor and support from others. With God’s help, I’ve become the person I am today, and I am grateful that for three weeks I had a glimpse into heaven of what my mom will really be like when “God will wipe away every tear” from her past and heal all her wounds.

James Divine is a musician, author and music teacher. His latest book “A Stroke of Bad Luck: A survival guide for when someone you know has a stroke” is available on Amazon. James tries to share truth, grace and love wherever he goes. One of his main goals in life – besides running away from the ever-present wooden spoon – is to act his shoe size, not his age. Find out more at www.jamesdivine.net.

Tube Socks, Giants, and a Teacher’s Trust

Have you ever had a teacher say or do something that had a huge impact on you for your entire life? I have had many of these opportunities.

Some teachers affect you in a negative way. I’ve had my share of those. Most of my teachers had huge, positive impacts on my life. My seventh grade band teacher was one of them.

I went to a rough school in seventh grade. Remember tube socks from the 70s? On the last day of school, it was not unusual to have some of the teens in the neighborhood surround the school bus – tube socks in hand – but with the addition of a large rock in the bottom of the tube sock. These teens would swing their rock-filled tube socks with the expertise of David swinging his slingshot at Goliath – except instead of using their rock to slay evil, they were intent on causing evil by smashing the windows of the school bus. I was a terrified 13 year old about to wet my pants.

Within the school I felt very safe. We were kept safe by a group of three security guards who were very tall – they seemed like Goliath to me in the heights they reached – and well-muscled – but the friendliest giants you ever knew! They made me feel safe. They developed relationships with students. I had my share of getting in trouble in seventh grade, but these giants loved me all the same…as did my band teacher.

The band teacher played saxophone like me. I can still see his face. I remember his encouragement as I learned saxophone for the first time. I remember his praise – his gentleness – his push for high standards – not just musically but morally too. I even remember when he lost his temper at the drummers one day, flung his conductor’s baton at them, only to have it bounce off the bass drum and come back and hit him in the head. We all had a good laugh, including him. I can’t for the life of me remember his name.

One day we were taking a trip to a local music festival where we would perform, receive feedback, and listen to others perform. Those of you who took band may remember this event as Large Group Festival. As our teacher prepared us, he reminded us that we were stopping for lunch and we should bring some money. He informed us that if we forgot our money, he would be glad to loan us some, but we would have to repay it. Then he said something I’ve remembered my whole life…”And if you don’t pay me back, that’s ok. It’s worth a couple of dollars for me to find out I can’t trust you.”

That teacher’s trust meant a lot to me – and it taught me an important lesson… Trust everyone unless they show you they can’t be trusted. Thank you Mister!

***James is a music teacher at a school very similar to the one he went to as a 7th grader. He is in his 23rd year of being an educator and attributes his success to all the wonderful teachers he had along the way. James grew up in poverty and abuse, but now shares his story of Your NOW doesn’t determine your FUTURE as often as his schedule allows. Find out more at www.jamesdivine.net. Get his book on amazon Forgive: One man’s story of being molested…and God’s redemption.

7 (Fun) Rules for Eating During the Holidays

  1. Start with a huge glass of egg nog. This is to coat your stomach lining to keep it safe. Home made fudge also works in place of or in addition to egg nog.
  2. When whoever’s cooking isn’t looking, grab a healthy sample of what they’re cooking. You want to make sure it’s safe for the family. Can’t let them see you because they’ll feel bad that they didn’t think of it
  3. Skip anything green or anything with more than 50% vegetables. No sense in using space that could be filled with meat or pie
  4. If in doubt about whether to pour gravy on something, pour extra on it. You can’t go wrong.
  5. Eat a double portion of all desserts. It’s tasty, plus double portion sounds biblical.
  6. Take a nap
  7. Repeat numbers 1-6.

And don’t forget to be thankful for all the blessings in your life.

YOU are a blessing in mine.

YOU make my life rich.

I love you.

Why I Don’t Trust the Media

I spent 1986-1996 as part of the Army band in Virginia, Japan, and Colorado. During that time we usually performed more than 200 times a year and often participated in high-profile events that included the media. I can’t tell you the number of wonderful events I was a part of that were featured on the news that night…

  • 1,000s of people were in attendance
  • There was free food and entertainment
  • Helicopters and tanks were on display for kids to climb on
  • Speeches were made and received with great applause
  • Veterans were celebrated, recognized, and congratulated
  • The media was everywhere, interviewing kids and veterans and joining in the festivities.

With anticipation, we all tuned in to the news that night, excited to see how our event would be portrayed on the news. Instead of the fun and festivities, we would see a two minute clip of the three protestors screaming obscenities from the base’s main gate. This was not a true representation of what had happened!

Then There was the Time I WON NCO of the Quarter

If you understand Army band musicians, you understand that we LOVE to be in the spotlight – at least when it comes to music-making – but we could care less about it when it’s an out of band recognition.

When I was in Japan, an office over the band realized we were never sending candidates for the NCO of the Quarter competition, so we were ordered to send candidates. When it was my turn to try out, I ended up winning the competition. I was a snarky early 20s young man who hadn’t even wanted to go to the competition. But I won and was interviewed by the Stars & Stripes reporter…

S&S: What made you want to enter this competition?
Me: I didn’t want to, but we were forced to send someone

S&S: What does it feel like to have won this honor?
Me: I really could care less about it.

S&S: What did you do to prepare yourself for this competition?
Me: Nothing.

I would have totally understood if the reporter had decided to not submit my story because of my lackadaisical attitude and responses. I was shocked when I read the story in the paper and it said something along the lines of, “SSG Divine spent hours preparing for the NCO of the Quarter Competition. He told Stars & Stripes, ‘I worked hard and have wanted this honor for many years. My countless hours of preparation paid off.'”

I was dumbfounded!

Now imagine this (fake) headline

Man Spends 25% 0f Daily Commute at One Stoplight!

How does this headline make you feel? Do you feel bad for the commuter? Do you think “Thank God that’s not my commute?” Do you wonder why he doesn’t take a different way? Do you wonder why traffic engineers don’t do something about this? 

What if I add that the commute is only ten minutes, 2.5 of which are at this particular stoplight at a major intersection? Does this change what you think? 

Man’s commute varies from 10, to 30, and sometimes 60 minutes

Poor guy! He must live in a populous city like New York, or D.C, or L.A to have such a varied commute. 

The truth…some days he drives the four mile commute, some days he rides a bike, and others he walks.

Now consider these three very possible headlines…

Interest rates fall – fixed income, elderly in trouble

Interest rates rise – would be homeowners priced out of the market

Interest rates stay the same – is the economy stagnating?

When you read or hear a story in any media – newspapers, news shows, radio, etc. – be EXTREMELY careful. It is often easy for the media to “tell the truth” while not being entirely honest. 

The Cruelty of Quarantine

By Melanie Wiseman
Reprinted with permission.
Original credit goes to:
Life After 50 October 2020 issue, The Voice of Adults 50+ in the Pikes Peak Region

A daughter’s search for compassion amid a pandemic

Until recently, the COVID-19 pandemic was a mere inconvenience. I still biked, hiked, camped and enjoyed small socially distanced gatherings with friends. Everything changed when my mother’s health suddenly and rapidly declined in a Wisconsin independent living apartment 1,200 miles away.

My siblings and I were now among the thousands of families being kept away from fragile loved ones when they needed us most. Our quarantined parents were prisoners to the virus.

Health is wholeness

On March 11, two days after celebrating my dad’s 94th birthday, their independent living facility went into lockdown. My plane ticket to visit the following week would have to wait. Never did I imagine I’d be flying out two months later, just to watch my mother through her bedroom window with tears in her eyes, arms outstretched, longing to give me a hug.

Even though it was meant to protect residents’ health, the quarantine did the opposite. With her heart weakening, lack of movement and exercise meant fluid filled Mom’s legs and around her lungs, and tethered her to an oxygen machine.

Meals were brought to my parents’ room, and all in-person socialization with friends and family came to a halt. They became depressed and anxious, with little to look forward to. The only people they had personal contact with were masked facility staff.

“Health is wholeness—the total wellbeing of the person,” said Dad. “There is physical pain and there is emotional pain.”

Their wholeness was not being cared for. Isolation took away any quality of life my mom had left. Each time I called my parents would say, “At least we have each other. We think of all the people going through this alone.”

Searching for compassion

By the time Dad ultimately said, “Come home,” I had just over a week with Mom before she died. Each day, I pleaded with the facility director to be able to physically and freely hug, hold and comfort them both. Every day I was told, “No.”

From behind windows, screens and iron fences, I watched as my mom, now a shadow of herself, was comforted by those who were strangers to me. These “strangers” then went home to their families and friends, while my mom’s own family stood outside.

My father was by my mother’s side at all times, exhausted, but extremely attentive. His being there was our only consolation as anger and frustration built up among us children and grandchildren.

Fortunately, Mom knew what was happening and was at peace, which was the greatest gift she could give us. In return, we wanted to grant her deepest desire: the ability to hold her family. We’d been denied for months; surely at the end of her life, compassion would prevail over rules.

But even as a hospice team was called, we were denied entry. The facility told us that when our mom was “actively dying”—within 48 hours of her death—family would be allowed to visit two at a time. But they never called it. We did.

After we’d visited Mom in the morning on June 11, my sister, her daughter and I recognized the nearness of my mom’s passing and pressed harder than ever to be allowed to spend time with her. The three of us were finally given one hour that afternoon. We used that hour to its fullest, taking off our masks when staff left the room and watching Mom light up like a Christmas tree as she saw our smiles and faces. We listened closely to her fading voice and reminisced over photos of her life growing up on a farm in Michigan.

“When I was a young person, I thought a lot about what my purpose was, and then I met your dad, and I knew. We would do it together,” she said. “I no longer have a purpose, but now it’s you kids’ and grandkids’ turn to take over for us.”

When the hour was up, my sister and I each gave her a hug and told her how much we loved her. As we went to leave, she quietly called me back.

“I need another hug,” she said. I tearfully complied at length and once again we told each other, “I love you.”

I assured her we would see her tomorrow morning. But there was no tomorrow. My mother, beautiful both inside and out, died in her sleep that night.

The price of protection

Why, you might ask, would I choose to share such a personal experience? Because this story is happening every day, all over the world. Facilities are “protecting” people from the virus, but at what cost?

The distressing end to lives from COVID or amid its restrictions is hard to fathom, but it’s very real. Families who just want to hold their dying loved ones face a moment in history where isolation reigns and liability overrules compassion.

I strongly believe that my mom’s death came quicker, not from heart failure, but from a broken heart. Did she die from COVID? No. Did she die much sooner because of it? Absolutely. My father agreed that the isolating confinement caused by the pandemic both rushed her death and was an undeniably cruel way to die.

“It’s time for me to grieve and adjust after falling in love with your mom every day for the last 72 years,” Dad said. “There isn’t a normal way to do that in this current situation.”

Sadly, the quarantine cruelty continues. The day after my mother died, Dad went back to being alone in their apartment, with no visitors. He FaceTimes with his children and grandchildren, but it’s no substitute for stimulating contact and social communication. He can’t leave the facility except for essential appointments. A “prisoner” once again.

In loving memory of  Wilma Katherine Baumbach July 27, 1930 – June 12, 2020

4 Tips to Help you be a Better Band Director using the Acronym BAND.

4 Tips to Help you be a Better Band Director using the Acronym BAND.

There are four key areas that – if you focus on these and make them a priority – they can help you be a better band director. None of them have anything to do with music, but the word “BAND” does fall nicely into place to help you remember them.


Watch what you eat! When life gets busy, it can be very easy to grab something to go. I once was 30 pounds heavier than I am right now, all due to poor eating choices and failure to plan. Plan ahead what you are going to eat. Buy some healthy snacks. Keep them in a fridge at work, in your glove compartment, wherever. Pack a healthy lunch. Watch the pizza. I once ate 8 slices at a football game and regretted it for the next day and a half. I could do that when I was 18, but I’m in my 50s now.


Move your body. Exercise is important, not only to your physical self, but your emotional and mental health too. Pick something you like. Jogging, hiking, swimming, biking, walking. Put more ing in your life. You should strive for a minimum of 20-30 minutes 4-5x a week. It will lengthen your career and leave you feeling like you have more energy. Warning: When I was 30 pounds heavier and first embarked on exercising and eating better, I initially felt worse. This is normal.


Get plenty of sleep. The amount is different for each person. I need 7 hours a night, so I try to make sure I get that at least 6 nights a week. Try napping. The floor of my office often became a 10 minute nap area during marching season. Students have posted hundreds of pictures of me sleeping on the bus on a trip.


Have a life outside of band. I heard of a band director who does not allow himself to read anything unless it is something that will help his band. I think this is unhealthy. Take up a hobby. It might even be music related, but not be something you need to do for a living. I had to quit giving lessons for the most part because I felt like my day was never ending, but I perform, record and compose simply because I like to and it’s an outlet for me. I also hike, bike and meet with friends (and spend time with my family of course).

When life gets off track and you’re not sure what to do, think B.A.N.D.

The Grandmother I (Almost) Never Had

My Italian mom told me so many stories of her father – how she struggled to keep up with his long legs while he walked with purpose, how proud she was of him providing for her family, and especially how he told Bible stories to his 9 kids, making them come alive with his story-telling skills.

(my grandfather)

I never got to meet my grandfather. He passed away too early when I was about 2 years old. And my grandmother followed very shortly after him.

We had left my dad because he was abusive, so I wasn’t connected on that side of the family. As a child I felt deprived and jealous. Other kids had a dad. Other kids had grandparents. I had a ton of aunts and uncles, but they lived in Italy, thousands of miles away.

The lifesaver for me was church. Not only was it the place I learned about my Creator and how I could have a deep relationship with him that transcends this life, but there were so many opportunities to surround myself with friends, mentors, and teachers. There were many of these relationships I didn’t fully appreciate until I was fully into my middle years.

Mom belonged to the older singles group at church. Most of the people in that group had never been married and didn’t have kids. They were in their late 20s and early 30s. Mom had two kids. The teachers of the class – Mr. and Mrs. Thomas – had two kids of their own who were about the same age as my sister and me. As part of teaching the class, they often planned fun outings to the beach, to the park, barbecues, and get togethers. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas were not only class (and classy) teachers, they embraced us, loved us, poured into our lives and changed our lives. They were the first couple I can remember who showed me what a marriage could be like. This had a deep and lasting impact on me!

On one occasion we went out to dinner with the Thomas family, and Mr. Thomas’ mom was also there. I doubt the restaurant is still open, but I can show you exactly where it was in Norfolk, Virginia. I saw the way Rene and Tommy and their grandmother interacted and I was jealous. Their grandmother was such a nice and compassionate lady. She was fun, loving, and witty. She oozed joy and exuberance about life. During dinner, I expressed my dismay at not having my own grandmother. “Grandma Thomas” – as she later became known in our house – said that she would “adopt” us as her grandkids.

(L to R) my sister Mimmy, Grandma Thomas, Mom)

These were not empty words on her part. She already had a quiver full of grandkids, but she became our real grandmother. She began to be a regular part of our lives and treated us as if she WAS our grandmother. When my first child was born about a decade later, Grandma Thomas made a blanket for her. Grandma Thomas never got to hear from me what an impact her life had made. She went the way of the world and passed on to the other side.

I know we will meet in heaven someday. I will run to her, scoop her up into my arms, and tell her what an impact she made in my life! 

Who can you be a grandparent to?

(P.S. My grandmother was also a writer. She was a frequent contributor to Readers Digest, The Saturday Evening Post, Mature Living, National Enquirer, and IEA news among others. Following is a poem she wrote that is one of my favorites.)

 Spray Job

My dog is so obedient,

He does what he is bid;

The park bench said, “Wet Paint”

And that’s just what he did.

My wedding day!
(L to R) Grandma Thomas, Rene, Lynn

Lights. Cameras. Action. – Tips for Online Teaching

You don’t have to be an expert at teaching via camera. Start with what you know and PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. You will get better!

In this tutorial, I share some strategies for making better videos, with tips about lighting, background, making the camera your friend, and what I mean by pre-roll and post-roll. Enjoy, and watch for my videos coming soon called “The Two Minute Teacher Tune-up”.

Purchase the light I use here (affiliate link)

10 Steps to Writing a Book in 9 Months

If I can write a book, anyone can do it. I’ve had the honor of writing six. I’m working on number seven right now. Here are ten steps to follow…

  1. Start with an idea – you probably already have a few or you wouldn’t be reading this.
  2. Brainstorm chapter headings – sometimes just writing – not editing – makes room in your brain for more ideas.
  3. Start writing in a word document so you can save it. Don’t worry about format or editing too much at this point, or even the number of words you are writing. Set a reasonable goal for yourself, maybe 500 words a day. Many word processing programs will give you a word count. There is no right or wrong answer for how long or short a book needs to be. I think most books are too long.
  4. Post each chapter as a blog post. I was aiming for one a week. You may do more or less. Don’t worry too much about editing. What’s the purpose of this? Get some feedback from some of your (hopefully) strongest supporters – friends and family. Does the story/subject resonate with them?
  5. At some point, you will realize you are near the end. Take what you have written and begin to edit it. Cut out extra words. Add stories or details that you forgot to add the first time around. What works best for me is to actually print it out and mark all over the paper.
  6. Go to Kindle Direct Publishing and set-up an account. If you already have an amazon account, you will be able to log in using that. Start working with the online cover editor. Make decisions about the size of the book. Download their template and start formatting your material to the template.
  7. Order a proof copy. Not required but I highly recommend it. I made some changes after seeing my proof.
  8. Order your books. I ordered 50 copies originally and within two weeks had to reorder, mainly because I had given so many away. My physical books cost me about $2.50 a copy. I sell them for $12-$15. Digital books are free to make.
  9. Selling…It helps if you already have a “platform.” In other words, you should have a way to sell the book. In my case, I am a motivational speaker part time and am able to sell the book at my events. If you don’t have a platform, think of how you can create or incorporate one.
  10. Be realistic. I sold about 5 copies the first month my book was out. Dan Miller of 48 Days fame says it takes two years for a book to really get going. Be persistent and stay encouraged.

I created a course on Udemy that takes you step by step through this process. For a limited time, get 50% off by following this link.

Udemy offers a full 30 day money back guarantee. Try the course – some have even gotten through the lessons in a few days – and if you don’t think it was worth every penny, Udemy will refund your money.

America The Beautiful – My Tribute

America…the greatest country on the face of the Earth.

Are we perfect? No way! But we strive for what our founding fathers had a vision for.

Those men were endowed with heavenly wisdom to put into writing the standards of justice and equality that we should strive for.

When I was in the Army – and now even in my position as a public school teacher – I swore to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States and to defend it against all enemies foreign and domestic.

This is my tribute to our flag, to the United States, and to the Constitution, especially the 1st amendment.

Tribute to My Dad

I once had a friend who was very overweight and had diabetes. We were hanging out and he ordered a double sugar, extra fat, triple whipped cream something or other from the coffee chain. When I expressed surprise that he was able to drink that, he showed me his insulin pump attached to his hip and told me he could eat or drink whatever he wanted. He was being treated for the symptoms of diabetes.

Our country has a severe case of “diabetes” as shown by all the crazy violence taking place, but that is just a symptom of what’s really going on! The disease is the absence of fathers in our culture.

I could have been one of those hoodlums racing around taking TVs from Target, but I was fortunate because when I was 17, I started dating Susan. Eventually we married, and her dad became my dad. By example, he taught me what it meant to be a man – to be faithful to God and family – to work hard – to honor your word. I am blessed because he is NOT my father-in-law, but he truly is my Dad.

When our first child was little, we were teaching her how to say “Grandaddy.” Instead she said “G-Daddy” and the man who is a superhero to many finally was anointed with his superhero name.

Dad, you’re not getting a card this year – just this song and video, but I hope you know how much I love you and respect you and how thankful I am for all the things you’ve taught me. However, I’m saving up for the Ferrari for you. Only $299,997.52 to go!